Crash Into Me

The baseball rule book does not get additions very often. On top of that, casual fans cannot recite very many rule numbers. There is one circumstance where these two rarities become a reality: Rule 7.13 (old format).

Some folks call it the Buster Posey rule since his injury was the catalyst leading to the rule. It is the home plate collision rule.

Here it is in all of its glory:

(1) A runner attempting to score may not deviate from his direct pathway to the plate in order to initiate contact with the catcher (or other player covering home plate). If, in the judgment of the umpire, a runner attempting to score initiates contact with the catcher (or other player covering home plate) in such a manner, the umpire shall declare the runner out (even if the player covering home plate loses possession of the ball). In such circumstances, the umpire shall call the ball dead, and all other base runners shall return to the last base touched at the time of the collision.

(2) Unless the catcher is in possession of the ball, the catcher cannot block the pathway of the runner as he is attempting to score. If, in the judgment of the umpire the catcher without possession of the ball blocks the pathway of the runner, the umpire shall call or signal the runner safe. Notwithstanding the above, it shall not be considered a violation of this Rule 7.13 if the catcher blocks the pathway of the runner in order to field a throw, and the umpire determines that the catcher could not have fielded the ball without blocking the pathway of the runner and that contact with the runner was unavoidable.

Without reading the rule most fans believed this rule outlawed collisions – like in high school. A closer reading of the rule shows this is not the case.

What does the rule say? In a nutshell, part 1 says a runner cannot go out of his way to crash a catcher. If a catcher is set up away from the plate, a guy cannot get a cheap shot on him. The runner has to make an attempt to get to the plate.

Part 2 says the catcher cannot block the plate without possession of the ball or without fielding a throw that takes him into the baseline.

What happened in this play?

The catcher had the ball before the runner got to the plate. Once he has the ball he can block the plate. Also, the runner did not deviate from his path to the plate. He can (and actually does) touch the plate.

Since neither provision of the rule are violated this is a…wait for it…a completely legal collision. It is a baseball play. The umpires correctly ruled this is an out and the out stood after replay.

Home Plate collisions are covered on page 59 of RuleGraphics.

Back up, back up

Most of the time when I talk about rule differences it is between varying levels of baseball. Turns out some baseball umpires also work softball. There are some rule differences there as well. Some of them are pretty goofy.

Take this play for example:

In baseball, this is a nothing play. The runner backs up the first base line and is eventually tagged. He would be out once he went beyond the plate.

In high school softball it is illegal to back up towards home plate. The ball is dead, the runner is out, and all runners return to their time of base pitch. That is a pretty harsh penalty.

The question of whether a runner can do this in baseball comes up every couple of months on umpire message boards. As this play shows, the answer is clearly yes.


Keep playin’ boys

Buried in the rule book at 6.02(a) PENALTY (old rule reference 8.05 PENALTY) is the exact penalty for a balk:

PENALTY: The ball is dead, and each runner shall advance one base without liability to be put out, unless the batter reaches first on a hit, an error, a base on balls, a hit batter, or otherwise, and all other runners advance at least one base, in which case the play proceeds without reference to the balk.

The first part of the rule is the one everyone knows. The runners all get a base and the pitch does not count to the batter. Not a lot of people know about the second part. If the ball is put into play, it is not dead right away.

If the batter and all runners advance at least one base, the balk is forgotten. This does not happen often but it did last night.

The pitcher committed an illegal quick pitch. A balk was immediately called. This did not stop the batter from smacking a ground rule double.

On the hit all runners advanced a base so the balk is not called. Pretty interesting play.

One other thing about this play. This article equates this situation to a football coach being able to decline a penalty. This is not right. One of two things happen: the runners and batter don’t all advance and a balk is called or they do and the balk is not called. There is no choice.

Say the ball stayed in the park and the batter was thrown out at second. The manager cannot come out and say he would rather have his guy in the box with the runners getting a base. The out would stand at second.

In high school this rule is completely different. The ball is dead immediately and nothing that happens afterwards matters. The ultimate result of the play would be one run scoring, one runner moving to 3rd and the batter still in the box.

Baseball is awesome at times.

Balks are covered on pages 21-23 of RuleGraphics.

When is a ball a strike

I have discussed on this blog the differences between high school and professional rules. Most of the time they really don’t amount to much and other times it causes some potentially goofy rulings.

Here is a play that happened recently in the majors:

The batter requests time (and note, the batter can only request time, he is not calling time, that is the umpire’s job). The umpire does not grant it because the pitcher had started his delivery. The ball comes right down the middle and a strike is called.

They key to this call is that the pitch was actually a strike. Here is rule 6.02(b):

The batter shall not leave his position in the batter’s box after the pitcher comes to Set Position, or starts his windup.

PENALTY: If the pitcher pitches, the umpire shall call “Ball” or “Strike,” as the case may be.

The rule is specific in that the ball is to be called “as the case may be”.

The rule is quite different in high school (rule 6-2-4 (d)(1).

1. If the pitcher, with a runner on base, stops or hesitates in his delivery because the batter steps out of the box (a) with one foot or (b) with both feet or (c) holds up his hand to request “Time,” it shall not be a balk. In (a) and (c), there is no penalty on either the batter or the pitcher. The umpire shall call “Time” and begin play anew. In (b), a strike shall be called on the batter for violation of 7-3-1. In (a), (b) and (c), if the pitcher ­legally delivers the ball, it shall be called a strike and the ball remains live. Thus, two strikes are called on the batter in (b).

I added the emphasis. Notice there is no qualifying statement about calling the pitch as it may be. The rule is if it is delivered it is a strike. So, how can a ball be called a strike – if the batter had stepped out of the box prior to the pitch.

I have never called this. I hope I never have to because that would not be a fun conversation with the offensive coach.

Illegal versus cheating

I figured with DeflateGate (or Ballghanzi) in full swing I would take the time to talk about some baseball cheating. First, my thoughts on DeflateGate…I don’t care. I don’t think it really had any effect on the game, I bet other players do it all the time, and I am just sick of how the 24 hour news media blows these stories up. If Brady gets a suspension I think that is pretty silly (and I am a Colts fan).

I will say this though – Brady sure is not handling it well. How about you say this Tom, “yes, I like the balls to be on the lighter side, I have told my equipment people this, but I never told them to deflate below the minimum threshold”. You leave bus marks on their back and we all go on with our day.

Enough on that, let’s talk about baseball cheating. Well, in major league baseball, there is actually a small distinction between something being illegal and an outright accusation of cheating.

Remember this play:

The famous pine tar play. The rules were actually rewritten to say that this is not an out.

Rule 1.10 (c)

(c) The bat handle, for not more than 18 inches from its end, may be covered or treated with any material or substance to improve the grip. Any such material or substance that extends past the 18-inch limitation shall cause the bat to be removed from the game.

NOTE: If the umpire discovers that the bat does not conform to (c) above until a time during or after which the bat has been used in play, it shall not be grounds for declaring the batter out, or ejected from the game.

Rule 1.10 also states other specifications for bats. There are rule book stated limits on material (wood), length (42 inches), and diameter (2.61). There is no penalty listed for breaking the rules. Basically, if discovered, the bat is just taken out of play and told not to be used again. If a player persists in disobeying an umpire (which would be dumb), he could be ejected.

As the video shows, Brett was originally called out. That ruling was overturned later with the new rule language added that you see above. The game was finished from the top of the ninth days later.

My favorite part of this story: the continuation game had a whole new set of umpires. As the ball was put in play Yankee manager Billy Martin appealed that Brett had not touched the bases on his homer. The umpires produced signed papers from the original umps that the bases has been touched. Martin also monkeyed with his lineup in odd ways to protest. The story is here. It is awesome due to its ridiculousness.

Brett was not out for using a bat that did not conform to specs. You might be asking why this play was an out:

It is because cheating is different than not meeting specifications in the book.

Rule 6.06 (d)

6.06 A batter is out for illegal action when—

(d) He uses or attempts to use a bat that, in the umpire’s judgment, has been altered or tampered with in such a way to improve the distance factor or cause an unusual reaction on the baseball. This includes, bats that are filled, flat-surfaced, nailed, hollowed, grooved or covered with a substance such as paraffin, wax, etc.

No advancement on the bases will be allowed and any out or outs made during a
play shall stand.

In addition to being called out, the player shall be ejected from the game and may be subject to additional penalties as determined by his League President.

Rule 6.06(d) Comment: A batter shall be deemed to have used or attempted to use an illegal bat if he brings such a bat into the batter’s box.

Use a bat not up to code, replace it. Use a bat that you altered or tampered in order to improve its performance, you are out – and likely suspended.

This rule is different in high school. If you come to the box using a bat not up to code, you are out and your coach is restricted to the dugout.

Bat specifications are covered on page 13 of RuleGraphics.

Is this a balk?

This was posted on my association’s Facebook page:

Runner on second. Pitcher comes to set, raises leg and turns toward second. Shortstop was covering bag. Second baseman was in his normal position. Pitcher for some reason throws ball to second baseman. I called balk because pitcher did not throw to occupied base, or to anyone involved in covering occupied base or runner advancing to base. What do you think?

A minor but spirited debate is playing out. Myself and another person are saying this is not a balk. A few others are saying it is a balk. I was asked to lay out my logic.

It would have been too long of a FB post, but it makes for a great post on my rules blog. Again, I contend this is not only not a balk for high school but it is not a balk under any rule code.

First, let’s cover some of the basic balk rules.

Here are the MLB rules:

8.05 If there is a runner, or runners, it is a balk when—

(b) The pitcher, while touching his plate, feints a throw to first or third base and fails to complete the throw;

(d) The pitcher, while touching his plate, throws, or feints a throw to an unoccupied
base, except for the purpose of making a play;

Here are the NCAA rules (Rule 9 in the book):

SECTION 3. A balk shall be called for the following action by a pitcher:

a. From a pitching position, any feinting motion (without completing the
throw) toward the batter or toward first base when it is occupied by a runner;

c. While in a pitching position, throw to any base in an attempt to retire a
runner without first stepping directly toward such base; or throw or feint a
throw toward any base when it is not an attempt to retire a runner or prevent
the runner from advancing;

Finally, the high school rule (6-2-4):

ART. 4 . . . Balk. If there is a runner or runners, any of the following acts by a pitcher while he is touching the pitcher’s plate is a balk:

a. any feinting toward the batter or first base, or any dropping of the ball (even though accidental) and the ball does not cross a foul line (6-1-4);

b. failing to step with the non-pivot foot directly toward a base (occupied or unoccupied) when throwing or feinting there in an attempt to put out, or drive back a runner; or throwing or feinting to any unoccupied base when it is not an attempt to put out or drive back a runner;

What do the three codes have in common? First, you cannot throw or feint to an unoccupied base unless trying to make a play or drive back a runner. In the situation presented, second base is occupied. Any movement by the pitcher towards second can be interpreted as trying to drive the runner back. Bottom line – no need to call a balk due to this constraint.

Second, all three codes allow for feinting to second base. No codes allow for feinting to home or first. Major League Baseball disallows feinting to third. But, again, all codes allow for feints to second.

This is important. The rules are saying that first (and third in MLB) are treated differently than second. One cannot read a case play involving first base and apply that conclusion to a play at second base.

I will admit this situation is tricky. The rule books don’t specifically state whether this is legal or not. Personally, I don’t think rule books can take the time to outline everything that is legal. They are better off saying what cannot happen and then the user can assume anything not mentioned is legal. Not a fool proof plan, but a decent place to start.

Of course, there are case books which help us bridge this logical gap. Let’s start with the easiest one – Major League Baseball. The Professional Baseball Umpire Corporation Umpire Manual (PBUC) specifically discusses this play. From the book (section 8.5):

a) The pitcher shall be charged with a balk if, while in contact with the rubber, he attempts a pickoff at first or third base and throws to the fielder who is either in front of or behind the base and obviously not making an attempt at retiring the runner. However, there is no violation if the pitcher throws the ball directly to first or third base in this situation. Also note that there is no violation if the pitcher attempts a pickoff at second base and throws to an infielder who is in front of or behind the base (i.e., this violation is only in reference to pickoffs at first and third base).

b) There is no violation if a pitcher attempts a pickoff at second base and seeing no fielder covering the bag, throws to the shortstop or second baseman, neither of whom is in the vicinity of the bag nor is making an actual attempt to retire the runner.

(2014-08-11). PBUC Umpire Manual (Kindle Locations 2914-2921). . Kindle Edition.

I added the bolding to part (a). Notice the part in the parenthesis – the violation is only in reference to first and third. Again, you cannot take interpretations for plays at first and apply them to second. For what its worth, the Wendelstedt Manual has this play as not a balk as well (P160 or P158 in back of book).

So professional baseball is pretty cut and dried, what about college?

Page 9 of the college book says this:

NCAA baseball rules essentially are the same as for professional baseball;
however, there are some safety-related differences—some minor and a few
major—of which participants should be aware. It is the responsibility of the
players, coaches and umpires who are participating under the NCAA rules to
know the rules. Particular attention is directed to the following rules:

The book then lists a series of college rules that are different than professional – this rule is not listed as a difference. This college baseball rules study guide states that in cases not covered by the rule, college defaults to the PBUC interpretations. I see nothing in rule 9-3 that states the discussed play as being a balk.

Disclosure – I am not a college baseball umpire. I have not read that book cover to cover. I am not up on the yearly interpretations. But, from what I have seen I can only conclude this is not a balk in college since it is not a balk in professional baseball.

Last is high school. There are a lot of rule differences between high school and professional baseball. In fact, there is an entire book dedicated to the differences. Grounding ourselves for what we are looking for – we have established that both professional baseball and high school baseball allow for feints to second. We have established throwing to second baseman off the base is not a balk in professional baseball.

I believe the burden of proof is now squarely on the high school rules to categorically state this is illegal. If they don’t, then the similarity in the way the core rule is written leads me to believe the interpretation would be the same.

Well, I have searched and I find no such interpretation saying the described play is a balk. It is not in the case book (6.2.4 (J) describes a play at first…this is different), it is not in their yearly interpretations (I searched this site and saw nothing), and it is not listed in the BRD as being a difference.

Now, I get that I am fairly new to my umpiring organization. People don’t know me and people don’t inherently trust those that they don’t know. I also still flub a mechanic or two as I learn making some think I may not know the rules. If you don’t trust me, how about doing a quick google search.

Check out this thread, or this one, or even this play from major league baseball:

No balk was called.

If someone shows me an interpretation from NCAA or NFHS saying this is a balk, fine I will call it that way and buy you a cold adult beverage. Until then, I conclude the play as described above is not a balk.

Gettin’ it right

Chalk up this play to “it happens to all of us”. MLB is not allowing this to be embedded yet.

The ball clearly hits the base yet the umpire calls a foul ball. Right away from the look on his face, you can tell he was unsure.

He got together with his crew and they decided to overturn the call. At this point they had to choose where to put the runner. Second base seemed like a reasonable place.

There are a lot of new procedures in place to help “get the call right”. In MLB obviously they can get together – otherwise this crew would have not followed protocol. In college there are rules for when a crew can get together. I believe that fair/foul is one of them once it goes to the outfield (I don’t do college baseball).

Consider high school baseball to be the outlier. If this were a high school game, the umpire would have to eat his call. Once an umpire calls “foul” and the ball hits the ground – it is a foul ball.

Page 37 of RuleGraphics covers fair/foul balls. Click on our website to see samples and find out how to order a copy.

Breaking the 4th wall

On TV and movies “breaking the 4th wall” is when characters speak to the camera. Think House of Cards, Ferris Bueller or Zach Morris. Basically they are going to a place that is not usually allowed.

Alex Gordan is the clubhouse leader for catch of the year after this grab where he went where he is not usually allowed.

First of all, what a catch. But, was the catch on the up and up from a rules standpoint?

Here is where the rule book makes this a bit difficult. The ruling is not located in the section on making a catch. It is in the section on the batter. Rule 6.05(a)

6.05 A batter is out when—

(a) His fair or foul fly ball (other than a foul tip) is legally caught by a fielder;

Rule 6.05(a) Comment: A fielder may reach into, but not step into, a dugout to make a catch,and if he holds the ball, the catch shall be allowed. A fielder, in order to make a catch on a foul ball nearing a dugout or other out-of-play area (such as the stands), must have one or both feet on or over the playing surface (including the lip of the dugout) and neither foot on the ground inside the dugout or in any other out-of-play area. Ball is in play, unless the fielder, after making a legal catch, falls into a dugout or other out-of-play area, in which case the ball is dead. Status of runners shall be as described in Rule 7.04(c) Comment.

In English, the fielder has to have at least one foot on or over the playing surface and no feet completely on the ground outside the field of play. Gordon certainly did not have a foot out of play. Good catch and good call on the field.

By the way, this is another rule that is different in high school baseball for no earthly reason. In high school, a fielder can have one foot in play and one foot out of play and still make a legal catch.

Back to this play, what happens if the player steps out of play before making the catch? It is just a foul ball.

The rule above also discusses what happens if the player falls into a dugout or out of play after making the catch. Gordon did fall, so what else could happen?

7.04 (c)

7.04 Each runner, other than the batter, may without liability to be put out, advance one base when—

(c) A fielder, after catching a fly ball, falls into a bench or stand, or falls across ropes
into a crowd when spectators are on the field;

It did not matter on this play as no runners were on base. But imagine this, bases loaded with 1 out in the 9th inning of game 7 of the World Series. Gordon makes this catch. The umpires then kill the ball and correctly award the game and the series to the opponents because he fell out of play. How crazy would that be?

In high school, the ball is dead if a fielder carries a ball out of play. He does not have to fall. I have actually called this before as some high school fields only have lines marking in play from out of play. The players look like football wide receivers dragging feet to make a legal catch.

in the short season, this might be the major league catch of the season. This college player might have done him one better.

2 things on this: 1) I am a Evansville alum, so awesome job on the catch young Ace. 2) the umpire on this did a great job. He hustled down the line to gain as much ground as possible. Then he clearly stops and gets set to make a call. After seeing the play he hustles to ensure the ball is caught. Good work all the way around.

RuleGraphics breaks this down on page 28 of the book.



Just like he drew it up

Here is something you don’t see every day. Eric Young Jr “bunts” the ball into short right field for a base hit. I like how he stands on first and has the look of “I meant to do that”.

Regardless, this play does have one interesting rules component to it. It is one of the things that defensive coaches say most to me when I am doing kiddie ball.

Watch where his foot it at when he contacts the ball. It is a) pretty close to touching the plate and b) pretty close to being out of the box. So, should he have been out? Nope – unless you are calling high school ball.

Rule 6.06(a) covers this.

6.06 A batter is out for illegal action when—
(a) He hits a ball with one or both feet on the ground entirely outside the batter’s box. Rule 6.06(a) Comment: If a batter hits a ball fair or foul while out of the batter’s box, he shall be called out. Umpires should pay particular attention to the position of the batter’s feet if he attempts to hit the ball while he is being intentionally passed. A batter cannot jump or step out of the batter’s box and hit the ball.

Where do most coaches get caught up – notice how the rule makes no mention of home plate. Is it possible for a batter to have his toes on the plate and his heel in the batter’s box? Sure – the distance between the plate and the batter’s box is only six inches.

The keys are that the foot has to be entirely out and entirely on the ground when contacts occurs. Foot in air? Batter is fine. Heel on the line and rest of foot out? Batter is fine as lines are part of the box.

As the comment says, the intent of this rule is to prevent people from stepping out and hitting intentional balls. This is probably the only time this will be get called at the major league level.

Not because the umpires treat this rule like NBA refs treat traveling, but because the home plate guy should be focusing on the pitch. If he is looking where a foot is at, he is not doing his primary job. Unless egregious, it is not worth grabbing an out on this one.

I bet this umpire wishes he would not have grabbed that out.

As to my other note about high school baseball, under that code a player is out if he is stepping on the plate or completely out of the box when contacting the ball. On this play, there might have been an out (I cannot see if his toe is on the plate).

Page 38 of RuleGraphics covers this including a great illustration on what is required to get an out.

When the Rules aren’t the Rules

Baseball at its heart is a very simple game. Hit the ball, run in a circle and score a run. Other side, try to get three guys out before they circle the bases. Yeah, there are nuances and oddities in there, but for the most part weeks will go by when all that is called is out/safe, ball/strike and fair/foul.

The challenge becomes really knowing the rules when something odd does happen. Then, for umpires that do multiple leagues, the challenge on top of the challenge becomes knowing the rule differences.

I wanted to write a quick post discussing all the potential leagues out there and what rule set they use.

There are 3 base rule sets:

  • OBR – stands for Official Baseball Rules. These are the rules that govern Major League Baseball. RuleGraphics is based on this rule set
  • NCAA – College rules are very similar to OBR rules with some differences based on participation and safety. RuleGraphics would be the same in about 80-85% on instances.
  • NFHS – High school rules are a bit different from OBR. In addition to changes for participation and safety, this rule set has some differences making in “simpler” for umpires in some situations. There are about 220 differences between OBR and NFHS rules. Most are small. RuleGraphics would be the same in about 70-75% of instances

The key question becomes how does this relate to your child’s ball game. Again, I am taking broad strokes, but in general here is a breakdown.

  • Little League – uses the same base rules as OBR. They do have added safety and participation rules. But the core rules are similar. RuleGraphics would apply to these leagues.
  • Babe Ruth / Cal Ripken – uses the same base rules as OBR. In fact, the Babe Ruth Rulebook is a direct copy of the Major League Baseball rule book with sections added noting the difference. Again, most are safety and participation related. RuleGraphics would apply in these leagues
  • Pony League – OBR based like LIttle League and Babe Ruth. RuleGraphics would apply. Again, some age based modifications made for safety and participation
  • Other Youth Leagues – Dixie, and USSSA use OBR based rules with modifications. RuleGraphics would apply
  • Travel Tournaments – In my neck of the woods most of these tournaments use NFHS rules. Check your local listings

If you are super interested in learning all the minutia around the differences. This is a great resource.

If your desire is to learn the basics of the rules for your child’s game, there is a good chance RuleGraphics will get you what you need to know.